Las Lomas Hall District Elementary School flipped the switch on a new solar power system in celebration of Earth Day on Tuesday.
The 63-kilowatt system, mounted on a large shade structure in the parking lot of the school on Sill Road in Las Lomas, is one of five solar systems being installed on Pajaro Valley Unified School District campuses.
Together, the systems will generate 1.2 megawatts of power, about 75 percent of the schools’ energy demand, while saving an estimated $380,000 annually on utility bills.
“It’s a way to be green, and also put money back in our general fund,” said Kim DeSerpa, president of the district board of trustees and a champion of the project.
The district contracted with SunPower Corp. to install the systems in part because the San Jose-based company included an educational component in its proposal. In addition to providing curriculum and training for teachers, SunPower will partner with the district in August to host a weeklong solar academy for 20 high school students.
The academy will cover the science and technology behind solar energy, as well as the business aspects.
“It’s about career and college readiness and excitement,” said Renee Solari of SunPower.
At Hall, the education has started. Small paper suns with brief essays explaining solar power decorated tables placed under the structure.
“We really need to take this opportunity to educate our students about solar energy,” Principal Guillermo Ramos said. “They are the ones who are going to build the technology to keep our world clean.”
Installations are complete at Hall and Bradley Elementary School in Corralitos. Systems will go in this summer at Aptos Junior High School, Rolling Hills Middle School and Watsonville High School.
The systems, estimated to cost $6.3 million, are being funded through Measure L, a $150 million bond measure approved by district voters in 2012.
SunPower Managing Director Bill Kelly said the systems were designed to cover 75 percent of existing demand to encourage schools to reduce energy consumption.
Bob Culbertson, who sits on a Santa Cruz County committee tackling a state mandate to reduce carbon emissions, said powering schools with the sun is a good start. The five systems are estimated to offset more than 920 tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of removing nearly 3,500 cars from the road during the next 20 years.
Culbertson said wants the district to convert its fleet to electric power. He envisions a day when buses charge under similar shade structures at the district’s yard off Holohan Road.
“They can be picking up kids day after day in the sunshine,” he said.